Tagged: Daytona Cubs

Javier Baez May Be Forcing His Way Into Cubs’ 2014 Plans

Javier Baez is good.  He’s really, really good.  And based on the looks of things, he has very little interest in remaining in the minor leagues for all that much longer.

Currently with AA Tennessee, Baez hasn’t had any drop-off in production since being promoted from High A Daytona.  In fact, looking at the numbers, they’re remarkably similar in a lot of respects.  With Daytona this season, Baez was a .274/.338/.535 hitter.  With Tennessee, the pace has been .273/.329/.580.  Last night, he hit his 12th home run with the Smokies and 29th for the season.  What makes these numbers more impressive is that both the Florida State League and the Southern League are considered pitcher friendly.  He is sitting at 14th in the league in home runs in just 34 games.  If he had the at-bats to qualify, he would also lead the Southern League in OPS.

Photo: Matthew Shalbrack/Tennessee Smokies

Photo: Matthew Shalbrack/Tennessee Smokies

Clearly, when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer said that a prospect will get promoted if he dominates his competition Javier Baez took it to heart.  That is the exact kind of thing you want from your top prospect, too.  He’s not by any means a finished product, but he is making leaps and bounds at the plate.  He still strikes out more than his fair share (about 28% of the time), and his walk rate isn’t what you want in a middle of the order bat.  The walks part of the equation is coming around, though.  He’s taken 33 of his 47 professional walks this season.  While some of the lack of walks before this season is probably due to inferior competition at lower levels of the minors, the numbers bear out that he’s not walking up to the plate hacking quite as much as he used to.

The area of concern that remains about Baez, and the thing that can hold him back is his defense.  He has 40 errors for the season, and a .929 fielding percentage, which isn’t going to cut it at any level.  To his credit, his fielding percentage has come up with Tennessee, from .922 in Daytona to .946, which can probably be attributed to, in part, better field conditions in AA than were seen in the Florida State League and a smaller sample size.  This also shows how little fielding percentage should be used to judge defense.  Baez has all of the tools to play three infield positions, and could end up supplanting the platoon at third or Darwin Barney at second.  His range and arm work well at both positions, in addition to short stop.   Jed Hoyer said earlier this summer that he thinks Baez can stick and play short in the majors.

It would be a surprise to see Javier Baez to go to Spring Training and win a spot on the 25 man roster when camp breaks.  With the way this front office develops players, there is, while non-zero, a very slim chance of it happening.  It is entirely possible that Javier Baez breaks with AAA Iowa, however.  Considering how he’s played at AA Tennessee, it is possible he’s doing what he’s been asked: forcing the organization to move him up.  There is still some time to play in 2013, but nothing that has happened to this point should suggest a slowdown in Baez’s production.

AA is a phone call away from the major leagues.  Ask Starlin Castro.  When Baez gets to Iowa, he will actually be a mere phone call away from the majors.  If he plays as well in Iowa as he is in Tennessee and did in Daytona, there is no reason to believe that the offensively starved Cubs would not call Baez, especially if they find that they are one more bat away from being a competitive team.  Ultimately, it’s up to Baez.  If he dominates his level, he moves up, until he gets to Chicago.  At that point, we all hope he dominates at that level for a long time.

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DOWN ON THE FARM: Cubs Promote Javier Baez To AA

This probably means Brad Zapenas is headed back to Kane County…

When this season started, I thought there was some chance that one of or both of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler could start at AA Tennessee.  That isn’t to say I was surprised when both were sent to Daytona.  That actually affirmed the notion that the Cubs, led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with Jason McLeod leading player development, are really committed to letting these players develop and “master the level” before moving them up.  Granted, I thought it was more likely that Soler would beat Baez to Tennessee when the season started, mostly due to Baez’s defensive shortfalls and his lack of plate discipline, but a five game suspension and an injury have changed the equation for Soler.

Photo: USA Today Sports

Photo: USA Today Sports

This season, Baez took a step forward for the D-Cubs.  After finishing down there last season with a .188/.244/.400, he came back strong this season after getting some time in spring with the major league club.  This season’s .274/.336/.537 is a vast improvement, especially in a pitcher’s league.  In 98 games between 2012 and 2013, Baez delivered 21 HR, 70 RBI, went 14/18 stealing bases, and walked at a rate of about 6%.  In June, however, his walk rate improved to over 10%, which is a major step forward for the 20 year old 2011 first round pick.

Timing wise, this is about as good a time as any.  John Arguello over at Cubs Den sniffed this out when Ronald Torreyes was sent to the Astros, so I am all about giving credit where it’s due (and he deserves a TON of credit.  He’s the Gold Standard on prospect/ draft stuff).  But, it’s not like it was a leap to send him to Tennessee right now.  Baez is obviously comfortable in Daytona, and that is the time to move a player up.  Moving Torreyes was probably a justified by Baez being ready to move up.  And at this point, Baez gets to dip his feet in the water before the AA All-Star break, and finish with a touch over 50 games with the Smokies this summer.   He gets a half season to see where he stacks up at the level that saw Starlin Castro complete his minor league career.  He will very likely be headed right back to AA as next season opens up.  Again, he is going to have to master the level before going to Iowa.  He will be given every opportunity to do that, though.  And it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was a struggle or there is some inconsistency at the outset.  This is his biggest jump in competition level to date.

What does this mean for Baez’s possible timeline to Wrigley?  Well, it definitely brings him closer.  I would be stunned if he were in Iowa any sooner than this time next year.  In reality, there’s a good chance he spends all of 2014 in Tennessee, and doesn’t see Iowa before 2015.  If he succeeds, though, it’s not impossible to see an aggressive promotion, although that does not fit the MO of this front office.  I suspect the timeline is similar for both Baez and Soler to get to Chicago.  There is an outside chance that they make brief September cameos in 2014, if they come up next year at all.  More likely, they come up at some point in 2015.  The truth is, though, their promotions and eventual arrivals in Chicago are up to them and how quickly they work on they things they need to improve to make them worthy of a call-up.

 

EVERYBODY PANIC! Jorge Soler Broke His Freakin’ Leg

Unlike my usual overblown headlines on injuries, this one is actually accurate.  Jorge Soler actually does have a broken leg.  To be specific, he has a stress fracture of the tibia.

His injury is actually somewhat of a surprise. He is said to have gotten this injury when he fouled a ball off of his leg.  I suspect, however, that this was an injury that was developing before the foul ball and was found when the pain of that singular event didn’t go away and he was examined further.  That is because acute stress fractures are not exactly common.  The term “stress fracture” is exactly what it sounds like.  Repetitive stress causing a small fracture to a bone.  Tibial stress fractures are common in runners.  For a player like Soler, who has not played in a lot of games the last few years, the news of a stress fracture isn’t all that surprising.  The overload of playing every day can have the effect of a stress injury on players who are used to it.  For a guy who hasn’t played this much recently, it’s even more likely that a stress or overuse injury develops.

Here’s the good news…this is actually a pretty minor injury.  It’s really the next worst thing after shin splints.  All the stress fracture requires is rest.  While that’s a tough way to end June, and likely the season because of when the minor league schedule closes, this is not an injury that should produce any complications long term.  The injury was discovered quickly and is being treated with a walking boot.  The bone will probably not fracture completely, it will probably heal in the four to six week time frame, and Jorge Soler will be good as new.

Long story short…feel bad for Jorge now.  Don’t worry about his future because of this setback.  Because that’s all it is.

TRADE DEADLINE: Cubs Have Areas of Obvious Need

Through the beginning of their tenure, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done nothing short of a masterful job of adding quality talent to the Cubs’ minor league system.  Between the inherited talent and the added talent, the Cubs now have what is a consensus top ten system in the game, and it is likely to get better with the addition of second overall pick Kris Bryant, international signings, and the trade deadline.

Not all of the positions in the organization are overflowing with talent, however.  With the international signing and the trade deadline looming, there are some clear areas of need.  To build the caliber of organization that the team needs to have and the front office wants to grow, weaknesses need to be addressed.

The focus needs to be on positions with glaring deficiencies.  There are positions that are strong at the lower levels of the minor leagues without much talent at the top end, while some are stronger throughout the system or aren’t strong at all.  The focus needs to be on picking up pieces to build a strong pipeline to the majors sooner than 2015-2016 and strengthen areas without much talent to speak of at all.

1. Pitching

This is a no-brainer.  Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have acknowledged that the Cubs will use the international pool and trade deadline to strengthen this piece of the puzzle.  There are some nice pieces at just about every level of the organization, but not nearly enough.  The best prospect in the organization is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired last July in the Paul Maholm trade.  When he gets healthy, he has front of the rotation stuff, but his arm trouble might limit him to a relief role.  Pierce Johnson just got his long overdue promotion to Daytona, and he appears to be on his way.  Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood are nice young pieces at the ML level.  The focus has been on arms in the draft, but none of them appear to be impact arms, with the Cubs grabbing position players with their last two top ten picks.  The clear lack of high end, projectable pitching talent makes it job one for the Cubs this July.  They could start out by signing Cuban prospect Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.  He’s 26, and could realistically start in the upper levels of the minor leagues this season, if not at the major league level…and all he costs is money.  Which the Cubs don’t seem opposed to spending on international free agents.

2. Catching

Beyond Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, there isn’t a lot of strength to one of the keystone positions.  While Castillo is a young player who is looking more and more like an everyday backstop, organizational depth is paramount at a position where injuries mount and nobody can catch everyday.  Dioner Navarro is a stop gap at the major league level.  While the Cubs can be active in signing veteran catchers for a year or two at a time, there is a ton of value in bringing catchers through the system who have a history with the pitchers coming up through the system.

3. Corner Infielders

Count me among the guys who really likes Christian Villanueva.  And Jeimer Candelario.  And Anthony Rizzo.  Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks.  Josh Vitters may never figure it out defensively.  I am not sold on the idea that Kris Bryant can stick at third base.  Dan Vogelbach appears to best project as a designated hitter.  Junior Lake is looking more and more like a super utility player.  Luis Valbuena is a utility player who is having a nice season as a starter for a rebuilding team, but in no way should or would be a starter on a playoff caliber team.  It really boils down to defense with this group.  While first base at the major league level appears to be filled for the foreseeable future, third base is a bit of a black hole and there is almost no depth in the system at first.  One thing that helps this group along is the potential for Javier Baez or Starlin Castro to slide over to third and fill the slot whenever Baez makes his way up to the majors.

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

4. Center Field 

The cupboard at the major league level is bare.  David DeJesus, Dave Sappelt, and Ryan Sweeney are really nice filler material during the rebuild, but they are similar to Luis Valbuena.  All three are reserves on playoff teams, and none of them figure to be around for the long haul.  Albert Almora looks fantastic at Kane County thus far.  He’s a few years away from being an option, though.  It is up in the air if Brett Jackson makes use of his incredible talent because he is endlessly afflicted by the strike out.  Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur both look like the DeJesus/ Sweeney type, as in they could be spare outfielders who can play all over as defensive replacements.  For those reasons, it wouldn’t hurt to add a center fielder with upside if the opportunity presents itself.

5. Corner Outfielders

There isn’t much for depth here in Iowa, but there is a lot to like about the potential for corner outfielders in the Cubs organization.  Jorge Soler is obviously the crown jewel of these guys at any level, but he won’t be in Chicago until September of 2014 at the absolute earliest.  The better bet is 2015 at some point.  Kris Bryant, to me, is probably going to end up in the corner not occupied by Soler, should everything go right.  This is a group that could also include Junior Lake, Josh Vitters if his defense stays as shaky at third as it has been.  Reggie Golden is at Kane County and is a sleeper to me.  Overall, I like the group of players the Cubs have stocked up on that could be turned into corner outfielder, where hitting is most important, and where defensive liabilities like Vitters can be hidden.  Again, it wouldn’t hurt to add to it if the opportunity arises, but there are definitely better places to add pieces.

6. Middle Infield

Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Logan Watkins, Arismendy Alcantara, Ronald Torreyes, Javier Baez…need I say more?  There is a legit prospect at just about every level of the minor leagues in the middle infield.  And the major league level has a two time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in the line-up everyday, neither of whom is old by any stretch of the imagination.  The middle infield is the strength of the organization, and unless you’re getting Jurickson Profar in a deal, this area isn’t a priority in the least.

There is no argument to be made that the Cubs wouldn’t be best served to get the best players they can, regardless of the positions they play.  Weaknesses cannot be ignored, however, and the goal when moving players like Matt Garza should be to find high level talent in areas of need, which would make the trade good for both sides.  Again, if the Rangers are parting with Profar (for example), you have to pull the trigger.  Talent like that doesn’t come around very often.  At the end of the day though, the focus has to be on adding impact arms that can make a difference in the near future and catchers to work with them coming up through system.

 

Jorge Soler’s Bat Crap Crazy Night

All of us who are on Twitter probably reacted the same way when we saw that Cubs prized international prospect Jorge Soler went nuts with a bat in Daytona last night.  I think my reaction was, “Say wha na…huh?”  I think we all had nothing but negative thoughts when we read that he assaulted an innocent dugout.  And I think we all wondered what it meant for his future.

Of course, given time, we find out that no dugouts were harmed in the making of a national news story from the Florida State League.  We found out that Soler himself feels terrible about what happened.  And we found out that (reportedly) Clearwater’s second baseman, Carlos Alonso, said something about Soler’s family.  Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea.  But when everyone who spent time with Soler this spring seems genuinely surprised it happened, I would bet there was more than “just normal back and forth at second base,” which is what Clearwater Manager, Chris Truby said about what led up to the incident.

My take is simple: I don’t have a problem with what Soler did.  That’s not to say he can charge opposing players and dugouts with a bat and beat the stuffing out of people.  He is a human being, though, and I know I’m not a mistake free member of society.  He made a mistake, and according to Theo, “Jorge is tremendously remorseful about what happened.”  That’s good enough for me.

As fans, we have an easy view on this.  I’m sure he was told by the organization that he would accept any punishment handed down.  He’s going to sit out five games.  He made A MISTAKE.  He didn’t come out of the game and complain to the media, no Gatorade coolers died last night, and no catcher is on his way out because the organization is picking sides.  He’s not Carlos Zambrano.  Heck, Big Z had to be poised and pitch well in the WBC to get a job this spring…and failed.  Jorge Soler is not Carlos Zambrano.  And questions about “make up” are premature, as well.  Keith Law tweeted it best, and I paraphrase, one incident does not change someone’s make up.

From our perspective, as far as big stories go, this should be pretty much a non-story.

Resetting the Farm System

The Epstein Administration is off to a very honest start, to say the least.  When Theo came, he made no mistake that the intention was to build an organization, from the bottom up, in order to sustain success for the long term.  To this point, he has kept his word.  The Cubs’ system now features five of the top 100 prospects, according to MLB.com’s updated, post season rankings.  Half of the organization’s top ten prospects have been acquired since Epstein and Co. have arrived, and that does not include First Baseman Anthony Rizzo, who would be the undisputed #1 prospect in the system if he met MLB.com’s criteria for what makes a prospect.  The fact that he has had a rookie season in the majors, from my view, does not make him any less of a prospect.  He is by no means a finished product…which is a scary good thought after his 2012 season.

With all of that, here is a positional look at the system:

  • PITCHING: Pitching is still the weakness of the system.  Theo knows it.  Jed knows it.  Even the guy in the bleachers drunkenly screaming to fire Dale Sveum because we could have won the World Series this year knows it.  That is why the focus has been on acquiring pitching.  The new regime spent almost the entire draft on infusing the system with new arms.  They made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Randall Delgado for Ryan Dempster.  They made a successful deal with the Braves to acquire Arodys Vizcaino, who is the best pitching prospect in the system, according to MLB’s new rankings.  Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn are also top 20 prospects in the system, who were drafted in the slots gained from the departures of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.  Nine of the top 20 are pitchers, none of whom is Hayden Simpson, the 2010 first round pick.  We are very close to reaching bust status with him.  The front office knows that there is still a shortage of arms in the system, so look for a continued focus on acquiring them, either through trades or in the draft.  Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza could each become prospect pitching, if there is a deal to be made.
  • CATCHERS: With Wellington Castillo looking primed to crouch behind the dish on a full time basis, with Steve Clevenger being a capable back up, and Geovany Soto being a Texas Ranger, it would seem the system is lacking in catching depth.  That’s mostly true.  The only catcher of note who will be in the minor leagues next season is Anthony Recker, who finished the season in the majors because of a September call-up.  The bright side to the catching situation is that both of the big league backstops are young players, who, like Anthony Rizzo, I would still consider prospects, who are developing at the big league level.  That’s some good news.  The bad news is, catchers tend to be injured more than other positions, and there is not a lot behind them.
  • INFIELD: There is some talent in the infield in the organization, but it’s nothing to jump out of your chair for.  Javier Baez is a notable exception to that, as the system’s number one prospect, again, according to MLB.com.  Christian Villanueva and Junior Lake are also both in the top ten in the organization, but neither seem to be all that close to cracking the major league line-up anytime soon.  Lake is probably the closest prospect, but he projects to be a utility player, who can play all over because of his arm and athleticism.  He has good power, but lacks plate discipline and still needs some polish in the field.  He could be a call-up in the mold of Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson in 2013, to get some experience at the major league level before going back to the minors to work on deficiencies he may not get to know without a call-up.  As for Baez and Villanueva, both finished the season at Daytona.  They may go to AA, Tennessee together next season, but a more sure bet is that they open at Daytona next year.  Josh Vitters, the most major league ready prospect in the infield, showed that he still needs some time to grow.  I could see him being moved to a corner outfield spot if his glove does not improve significantly.  An interesting prospect on the infield is Dan Vogelbach, whose bat will probably propel him up the system.  He hit for a combined 1.051 OPS between Mesa and Boise.  Being a 1B, though, is going to hurt him with the Cubs.  He is blocked by Anthony Rizzo.  If he could become a 3B, he could be a Pablo Sandoval type player in the future, although Keith Law says he has “no shot.”  My guess is, his lack of athleticism is going to be a significant issue with him being anything more than a first baseman or a designated hitter…which the Cubs have no use for.
  • OUTFIELD: The outfield is where the most depth is within the system.  After getting a sight of Brett Jackson, it appears that he has the ability to man CF at Wrigley for a long time, with improvements to his swing and approach at the plate.  The additions of Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, both of whom played well in their first taste of American pro baseball, make them, with Jackson, three of the top five prospects in the system.   With other interesting prospects, like Dave Sappelt and Shawon Dunston Jr, there is some serious talent, much of which is still saturating the low levels of the system.  For the time being, it is interesting to wonder about what an Almora, Jackson, Soler outfield will look like…because it won’t be a reality for a few years.  For now, we’ll get to watch a Soriano, DeJesus, LaHair (or whoever else they can manage to throw out there).

There is a lot more talent in the minors now than there was 12 months ago.  That is something that has to be attributed to building the organization, as opposed to trading any and all talent we can to get veteran players to win right now.  There has been a lot of that over the years, leaving the cupboards pretty bare.  Building it back up will take as much time and effort as it will to build the big league team into one that can consistently win.  It is a good thing to have talent saturation in the minors, and at this point in time, there is much more of it than there was when Jim Hendry left the club.  It is exciting, however, to watch the build-up.  Seeing lower level clubs compete, like the Boise Hawks did in 2012 is a sign of talent infusion.  Hopefully, the Cubs are able to build a system that can compete at all levels.  No organization can have too much talent.  At this point,though, it is still a work in progress.

Ump Show for D-Cubs Tonight

Photo: Courtesy of Daytona Cubs Baseball Organization Facebook Page

An umpire should pretty much be able to handle getting some heckling and should expect to take some heat if he makes a “questionable” (HORRIBLE) call at a team’s home field.  Not the case tonight in Daytona where the Daytona Cubs’ stadium music player, Derek Dye was EJECTED for playing “Three Blind Mice” tonight by umpire Mario Seneca.

The post on the D-Cubs’ Facebook page was:

“We’ve just entered the twilight zone at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. Our music man, Derek Dye, has been EJECTED from tonight’s game. The umpire, Mario Seneca, was apparently not happy when Derek played “Three Blind Mice” after a questionable call. With no music system, a fan has stepped up to call out player introductions from the stands.”

Fortunately, the D-Cubs had a fan step up and call out player introductions…otherwise the ballpark would have been subject to nothing but the umpire’s over-zealous self promotion.

The video of the over-officious jerk tossing Dye can be seen here.